Oxford College will have to pay almost £250,000 in hedge dispute legal bill

St John’s College, which is part of the University of Oxford, has run up legal costs of approximately £250,000, following a hedge dispute with a neighbouring landowner.

Last week, the college was ordered to permit 75-year-old Anthony Bethell, a retired architect, to maintain a 540ft stretch of ancient trees and bushes bordering his land.

The hedge marks the boundary between Mr Bethell’s £2.2 million home, which sits on a plot of three acres in Warwickshire, and 1,200 acres of farmland owned by St John’s.

Mr Bethell had offered to do the work free of charge, and with no input from the college, but St John’s denied him permission to maintain the border and also refused to enter negotiations, forcing him to take legal action which lasted for two years.

Mr Bethell said: “It seemed to me that from the very beginning they thought that because they were an Oxford college they couldn’t possibly be wrong.

“They were incredibly uncooperative and wouldn’t negotiate. I kept asking them to come to the table but they refused.

“All I wanted to do was restore an ancient hedgerow entirely at my expense but they decided to be awkward and wouldn’t agree to me restoring the hedge or entering the land to carry out the work. To this day I have no idea why.”

Andrew Willetts – Coventry County Court’s recorder – described the college’s actions as “perplexing and bizzare” before ordering it to pay the majority of the costs incurred.

St John’s College attempted to appeal the decision but was unsuccessful.

In a statement, a college spokesman said St John’s was “disappointed by some of the court’s findings but welcomes the clarity that the decision brings.”

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Nigel is the Managing Partner and Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution in the London office of Mackrell Turner Garrett.